Vadim Furmanov and Mark Temnycky –
Europe’s most prestigious international club competition will pick up at the end of February, where Ukrainian giants Dynamo Kyiv will compete in a two legged fixture against English heavy weights Manchester City. With much at stake for both sides, Futbolgrad’s Vadim Furmanov and Mark Temnycky provide their analyses on the upcoming fixtures.
UEFA’s Stadium Ban
The lifted stadium ban in the first leg has now presented a new variable in the equation. Originally, when the two sides were paired in December 2015, UEFA announced that the first leg would be held without supporters. This came as a disappointment to Manchester City fans as, during this period, flight and hotel costs were relatively inexpensive. The response to the recent ban lift, however, is that City fans are furious with UEFA’s turnaround, a motion that further contributes to the conspiracy theory that UEFA is specifically targeting the Citizens and its fans.
Over the past few years in the Champions League competition, City has faced ridiculous fines for entering the pitch one minute behind kickoff or for booing the Champions League anthem (though they were never officially charged for the latter). By the same token, City’s opponents, who faced racism charges, as did FC Porto and CSKA Moscow, escaped with lesser punishment. This has led Manchester City and its fans to ask if UEFA’s organizational structure is more interested in football than in the issue of racism.
Now, with the recent development in Dynamo’s racism case, City fans have yet another reason to be upset with UEFA. The decision to lift the stadium ban was made in early February. With rising flight and hotel costs and lack of preparation time, City fans are finding it difficult to book their trips for the first leg in Kyiv. This could lead to a lack of City supporters in Kyiv, which in turn would provide an additional benefit to the home side.
Dynamo have gotten away with a very light punishment for the racist incident during the Chelsea match and the response of the club’s officials has been characterized by denial and avoidance of responsibility. Before the upcoming match, the club has issued a warning to its supporters to not bring any political banners, invade the running track, or otherwise cause any trouble, as this could lead to more severe consequences. The fact that that only one of the perpetrators from the Chelsea match has received any punishment, however, indicates that the club’s commitment to combating racism and violence in the stands is very much in doubt.
It is difficult to talk about Dynamo’s domestic form when they haven’t played a Ukrainian Premier League match since December 4th, and their last competitive fixture was the decisive 1-0 victory over Maccabi Tel-Aviv in the Champions League four days later. Since then, the UPL has been on an extended winter break, and Dynamo have been training in Spain in preparation for the second half of the season.
Dynamo are currently 2nd in the table on goal difference to their perennial rivals Shakhtar. Shakhtar’s 3-0 victory over Dynamo in October was not only the club’s only domestic defeat in the past two seasons, but also was the worst home loss that Dynamo has ever suffered in the history of an independent Ukrainian league. Aside from that, they have only dropped points in one other match, a 0-0 draw against Zorya. Given the overall weakness of UPL at the moment, however, Dynamo’s domestic performances are hardly relevant when analyzing their chances in Europe’s top club competition.
Currently, Manchester remains in the hunt for three trophies: the Capital One Cup, the Premier League Title, and the Champions League. Yet despite this achievement, the club has also performed rather inconsistently over the past couple of months. In the Premier League, the Citizens sit six points behind the surprise league leaders Leicester City, four points behind joint second and third place Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, and six points above fifth place Manchester United.
In addition, City have struggled in many fixtures on the road, which reflects upon their total points, as most of their points accumulated this season have been earned in home matches. Moreover, during this last week in February, Manchester City traveled to Chelsea for the FA Cup Fifth Round fixture (albeit with a side composed mainly of youth players), will now fly Ukraine to face Dynamo mid-week for the Champions League Round of 16 first leg, and then will conclude the month with a Capital Once Cup final clash against Liverpool. In other words, the Citizens are in the midst of three games in a crucial season-defining seven-day span. It will certainly be an interesting performance by the Citizens during the first leg.
Unlike City’s congested fixture list, Serhiy Rebrov’s club have had months to prepare for their first Champions League knockout stage match since 1999. Furthermore, unlike the sparsely attended UPL matches, for the first leg against Manchester City, the NSC Olimpiyskiy will be at capacity. The atmosphere will be electric, which will surely be a massive advantage for Dynamo.
On the pitch, Dynamo’s biggest threat is, without a doubt, Andriy Yarmolenko, who has been linked with moves to Everton and Borussia Dortmund and recently rejected a big-money transfer to China. Yarmolenko will present a serious danger on the right flank and is known for cutting inside and curling the ball with his left foot, as Everton fans found out last year in Dynamo’s 5-2 victory in the Europa League. The center back duo of Yevhen Khacheridi and Aleksandar Dragović has also been very solid this year, with Khacheridi, for the most part, overcoming the temperamental issues that have plagued his career.
Manchester City comprises some of the best talent in world football: the likes of Sergio Agüero, David Silva, Vincent Kompany, and Joe Hart will surely put up a good fight against the Ukrainians. Furthermore, with Agüero’s prowess, he will be able to torment Dynamo’s center-backs, and with a hot-headed Yevhen Khacheridi, this could work to City’s benefit. In addition, this is the first time in their history that City have won the Group Stage in the Champions League, thus the English side will be eager to continue their impressive run by progressing to the quarterfinals.
And with the announcement that Manager, Manuel Pellegrini, who will depart this summer, his side will be keen to send their manager packing with at least one trophy in his suitcase.
The same thing that could be seen as Dynamo’s main advantage could also be a weakness. After well over two months without competitive football, it is possible that it will take the defending Ukrainian champions a few weeks to get back into their rhythm and form from the first half of the season, but this is a luxury they do not have. The first match after their break is arguably the club’s most important in 17 years, and they must hit the ground running. Also, none of these players have ever performed at this stage before, and their lack of experience at this level could also prove to be costly, especially when one considers the stature of their opponent.
The fullback situation is also problematic. Vitorino Antunes at left back is an attack-minded fullback whose defensive skills and positioning are suspect. Danilo Silva, on the opposite flank, is generally more reliable defensively but, in the first half of the season, has also been exposed on several occasions. If City’s wingers and fullbacks on the day can exploit these weaknesses, they can cause serious problems for Dynamo’s defense.
Manchester City, like all clubs, also have their weaknesses. City are currently missing several key players, with the likes of Jesús Navas, Kevin De Bruyne, and Fabian Delph sidelined for the first leg due to injury (though Navas should be expected for the return fixture in Manchester in March). Furthermore, Kompany, Silva, and Agüero have frequently had injury problems throughout this season, thus it will be key to ensure that they remain fit for both legs. Finally, Yaya Touré, along with City’s back four, have certainly seen better days.
Their defending as of late has been atrocious: Center-back Nicolás Otamendi has often been called upon to perform the duties of two defenders, Left-back Aleksandar Kolarov continues track forward rather than defend, and Touré seems to lack interest in defending when he loses the ball, thus his defensive partners Fernandinho and Fernando are forced to make up ground in the midfield. Overall, City must address its defensive issues. Otherwise, players such as Andriy Yarmolenko and Júnior Moraes will exploit these open spaces.
Dynamo Kyiv vs Manchester City – Players to Watch
All eyes will be on Yarmolenko, but whoever starts as striker could end up being decisive in this encounter. In the transfer window, Dynamo surprisingly sent Artem Kravets on loan to Bundesliga club VfB Stuttgart, which leaves them with just two strikers, Júnior Moraes from Brazil and Łukasz Teodorczyk. The latter was injured throughout most of the first half of the season but will be fit for Wednesday’s match. Teodorczyk is tall, powerful, a good header of the ball, and has excellent hold-up play. Moraes is quicker and more technical, but, as Dynamo play with a lone striker, there is only room for one in the starting eleven. Rebrov’s decision could therefore be the determining factor in this match. Dynamo’s deep-lying playmaker Serhiy Rybalka will also be crucial for connecting defense to attack and controlling the midfield.
With the absence of Navas and De Bruyne, it will be Raheem Sterling and Kolarov (or Gaël Clichy) who will dictate the run of play for Manchester City. The battle on the left wing will be crucial for these two players in both legs. If they are able to contain Yarmolenko, while at the same time annoying Serhiy Sydorchuk, Khacheridi, and Danilo Silva, they will certainly be able to gain a result in the Ukrainian capital, and more importantly, at home in the second leg. The return of Navas for the second leg will also be crucial for City’s success.
Dynamo Kyiv vs Manchester City – Prediction
Overall, the away fixture against Dynamo will be difficult for the Citizens. As previously mentioned, this will be one of three matches over a seven-day span at the end of February, with two cup-ties on either side of the Champions League first-leg match. And while their performance has dipped, I think this tie will be decided over two legs, with neither side gaining the upper hand following the first match in Kyiv, and thus putting more pressure on the Citizens to provide a result at home in the second leg in front of their fans.
Nonetheless, City have the strength and ability to take control of this tie, and with reinforcements for the second leg, I think (Ukrainian ancestors forgive me) that City will advance to the quarterfinals following a convincing second leg performance at home.
Dynamo manager, Serhiy Rebrov, has already succeeded in his inaugural Champions League campaign by taking the club out of the group stage and into the playoffs for the first time since he himself was a player. Going one step further, however, will be extremely challenging. Manchester City’s inconsistencies and away woes mean that a positive result in Kyiv is a possibility, but it is very difficult to see Dynamo being able to defeat Manchester over two legs. It won’t be easy for Manchester City, but in the end they will go through to the quarterfinals.
Mark Temnycky is a Ukrainian-American pursuing a joint masters degree in Public Administration and International Relations at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University. Follow Mark on Twitter @MTem33
Vadim Furmanov is a recent graduate of the University of Chicago with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. Originally from Ukraine, Vadim has resided in Chicago since 1994 and is a passionate supporter of both Dynamo Kyiv and the Ukrainian national team. He is also a Chicago Fire season ticket holder and a member of the Fire’s Section 8 supporters group. He writes primarily about Ukrainian football, as well as the intersection between football, politics, and history. You can follow Vadim on Twitter @vfurmanov.